BY JACLYN BRICE
Ministry Medical Group, Rhinelander
Current dietary guidelines recognize the health benefits of certain oils and call for a moderate intake of fat for most Americans.
If you are looking to lose or maintain weight, there is no denying that fats are higher in calories than proteins or carbohydrates. That’s one reason for moderation. As for cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association (AHA) makes the choice pretty simple, by stating “Replacing bad fats (saturated and trans) with healthier fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) is better for your heart.”
Non-tropical vegetable oils are better than solid fats such as butter, shortening, lard and hard stick margarine, according to the AHA. The “better-for-you” oils listed in alphabetical order on its website are canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower and blends of any of these oils. Tropical oils such as palm and coconut have more saturated fat and, as a result, do not make the AHA list.
Saturated fat tends to increase total cholesterol and LDL, raising your risk of cardiovascular disease. It also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Trans fats, usually made from oils through a partial hydrogenation process, are considered hazardous to cardiovascular health.
Solid vs Liquid: Generally speaking, saturated fats–butter, lard, shortening–are solid at room temperature. Most oils have at least some saturated fatty acids, and the majority of fatty acids in coconut, palm and palm kernel oil are saturated.
Polyunsaturated fats are always liquid, even if you put them in the refrigerator. Monounsaturated fats become cloudy when chilled.
Monounsaturated: Monounsaturated fats have been linked to lower total and LDL cholesterol and higher levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). Subjects whose diets included more than 12 percent monounsaturated fats had lower fat mass and lower blood pressure than those eating less than 12 percent of these fats, according to one study.
Oils that are high in monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, avocado and canola. Extra virgin olive oil also contains antioxidants (polyphenols) that are associated with good heart health.
Canola oil is more neutral in flavor (a plus for some, a minus for others) and is often highly refined and has fewer antioxidants than olive oil. It does have a relatively long shelf life, however.
Oil that has gone rancid or oxidized has an unpleasant smell and taste and has been found to speed up the process of atherosclerosis. Keep oils in a cool, dark, dry place.
Both canola and peanut oil have high smoke points, the temperature at which oils tend to break down and lose nutrients. This makes them a good choice for cooking over high heat.
Polyunsaturated fats have also been found beneficial to cholesterol and heart health. Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids include cottonseed, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, walnut, grapeseed and flaxseed oil. They do not offer equal health benefits.
Two major types of polyunsaturated fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Both are beneficial, but the American diet contains far more omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from packaged foods, refined plant oils, poultry and eggs.
A European study found a lower incidence of heart disease in countries that have diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and use oils with a high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
Sunflower oil is almost entirely omega-6 fatty acids; grapeseed and corn oil also have a high percentage of omega-6 as opposed to omega-3s. Blended vegetable oils usually contain mostly soybean and corn oil, considered two of the least beneficial of oils.
Tropical Oils: The AHA essentially rules out tropical oils such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oils because they are high in saturated fatty acids.
Not everyone agrees. Studies have demonstrated that coconut oil raises total cholesterol but increases HDL even more. Whether or not this matters in terms of cardiovascular health has not yet been determined, but most doctors are reluctant to start recommending coconut oil.
As you make changes in your selection and use of oils, keep in mind that views are undergoing changes as new findings are made available.
One thing is clear: oils have an important place in a good diet. Your goal should be to find the best oils that meet your tastes and your health needs.
Jaclyn Brice is a certified health coach with Ministry Medical Group, part of Ascension.